PLOT: A troubled young woman with a personality disorder moves into a halfway house filled with similarly disturbed tenants. When a series of deaths immediately occur, she has to get to the bottom of who is causing these fatalities even at the risk of discovering it's one of her own personalities.
REVIEW: I'll certainly give THE SCRIBBLER points for trying. Based on a UK graphic novel, the film is a low budget, high concept mix of film noir, psychological thriller, dark comedy and even superhero origin story. It boasts a strong female lead and a solid supporting cast of recognizable faces, and has clearly been made with ambitious care by its director, John Suits, and his creative team. But for all its admirable qualities, THE SCRIBBLER just doesn't gel, and ultimately becomes a confusing chore to experience.
Story focuses on troubled Suki (Katie Cassidy), who when we meet her is being questioned by an angry cop (Michael Imperioli) and sensitive psychologist (Eliza Dushku) about a string of deaths at a crusty old halfway house she's recently been relegated to. Via flashback, we learn Suki was just released from psychiatric hospital, where she was treated for her multiple personality disorder. Once plagued with over a dozen personalities, Suki's now only has a handful thanks to a machine called "the Siamese Burn," which she thankfully has been able to take with her. One concerning personality remains, however: "The Scribbler," who when in control has a habit of writing backwards on everything she can get her hands on. This means lots of post-it notes and graffiti on the walls, leaving Suki left to ponder what - if anything - The Scribbler is trying to tell her.
The conditions in the halfway house are not good. Leaky, stained, rotting; it looks like the kind of place even John Doe from SE7EN wouldn't want to enter. The tenants aren't in much better shape; the mostly female inhabitants range from eccentric (Gina Gershon as a snake-loving seductress) to downright crazy (Michelle Trachtenberg as a gothy psychopath with a penchant for pushing people down the stairs). The lone male resident, Hogan (Garret Dillahunt), enjoys his status as rooster in the henhouse, taking advantage of the troubled girls while keeping his own mania at bay with a bevy of pills and a knack for fixing gadgets. Suki and Hogan are able to maintain a tenuous friendship, but when the population of the hotel dwindles thanks to a series of suspicious deaths (people have a habit of falling out of high windows), they'll both have to rely on The Scribbler to figure out what's transpiring.
THE SCRIBBLER has a lot of plot but not a lot to say. Its attitude is quirky/snarky, with a female protagonist who prides herself on her sarcastic responses to problems, but it all seems surface-level, as if the filmmakers are trying to seem cool but just can't pull it off. It doesn't help that the dialogue is filled mostly with either unfunny putdowns or transparent platitudes; the one-liners might look good on a comic book page, but here they sound tone deaf. (Pretentious quoting of Charles Bukowski and Henry Miller seem desperate, not crafty.) Graphic novel creator Dan Schaffer also penned the screenplay, and his plot gets less interesting as it goes along; as Suki begins to find out the Siamese Burn machine infuses her with supernatural abilities, the movie heads into over-the-top MATRIX territory, and then it fully begins to crumble. I might have been on board for the creepy noir stuff, but when people start flying and having dramatic fistfights in the rain, you can only roll your eyes. Like its lead character, sometimes it seems like THE SCRIBBLER doesn't know its true identity, or what it wants to be.
Katie Cassidy turns out to be a compelling protagonist, however, despite the shaky material she's been given. Rocking short blond locks and an angry smirk, she's basically unrecognizable as Suki and carries herself well; in a better movie, she could even become something of a "girl power" icon, as is clearly the intent. The rest of the cast does a fine job of going into full-on unsubtle "kooky supporting character" mode, with Dillahunt especially reliable as ever as a sleazy/friendly nut who just wants to be loved.
The budget was clearly limited, but the film's look is effectively gloomy - if a little too reminiscent of other rain-streaked movies (I've already mentioned SE7EN and THE MATRIX, both of which were obvious inspirations). If nothing else, the film has a professional veneer, and some might find themselves drawn in by all the strange machinery and gnarly art direction. But it's all been there, done that in the style department, and the director can't find an interesting way to break THE SCRIBBLER out past its pretensions.